One of the bigger problems facing the short-term rental (STR) industry is misconception. Very often we hear that alternative accommodations are causing problems that in reality don’t exist. Concurrently, we also see insufficient awareness of the benefits to local economies that extra visitors bring.
This problem is made worse when those incorrect assumptions are repeated in the media. It’s confounding, but understanding that fact is the first step toward repairing the problem. Vacation rental managers can and should take an active role at informing the media on the true story of STRs; in fact, you can be a valuable resource to reporters, editors and producers who want to provide balanced treatment to their stories.
We reached out to a public relations professional who works in the industry, Jessica Gillingham of Abode PR (based in Bath, UK), for her advice on how to make sure STR facts and community benefits are included in articles, shows, blogs, and social media posts.
“We must have a voice in the tourism conversation,” Gillingham says. “It’s a hot topic in local communities, but we see it’s also an international trend.” In either case it proves the metaphor that if you’re not at the dinner table, you’re on the menu.
Gillingham offers these steps for devising a local media relations strategy from scratch:
- Define the audience and problem: Who are you trying to ultimately reach? That can be the community at large, or specifically elected officials, the local business community, other community leaders, potential STR owners, potential visitors or real estate agents. And what seems to be the misconceptions? Look at previous media coverage, as well as public statements or hearsay on what STRs mean to the community.
- Define your specific objectives: Gillingham says she approaches a media relations program with three objectives, to “make it measurable, actionable and timely.” For example, if a city council vote on STR regulations is being proposed, the measurable objectives could be to ensure specific features are included or excluded. The action would be to inform the conversation with the STR data and voices from community members who view our industry favorably. Timeliness is of course about making this communication happen prior to hearings and votes so that decisions are made with solid information in place of hearsay or suppositions.
- Develop your key messages: What do you know that others should know also? What are the benefits you bring to the local economy? What negative comments have you read or heard that are probably false?
- Know and contact your media. This is an essential part of creating fair media coverage. When you know what you need to say, within a smart overall strategy, you are ready to make phone calls or send emails to editors, reporters and columnists in traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers, city magazines) who cover real estate, retail, tourism and other related topics. Contact information is freely available on all media websites. In case you’re feeling shy about this, don’t: they need expert sources for their stories, and you are that.
But what about social media? Gillingham advises to consider social media your ears and eyes to what is being said about the STR industry. Use the search functions in Twitter and LinkedIn, in particular, to see who is saying what. From this you can build a list of influencers – e.g., local reporters, government bodies, politicians and business people who are talking about vacation rentals, tourism dollars and related topics. That list can be incorporated into your outreach targets.
Gillingham also advises that while facts and figures are powerful tools, anecdotes provide ideas that people can latch onto. For example, if you know of specific ways your visitors spend money – on local attractions, sports and cultural events, restaurants, etc. – mentioning those make the statistics more tangible.
Lessons learned: It’s to your benefit to develop working relationships with the local press before there is adverse news or regulatory efforts. If you need additional advice with anything related to media relations, contact VRMA Government Relations Director Greg Holcomb.